Norway’s fisheries directorate was under heavy criticism Sunday after it announced it had killed a walrus that’s been grabbing attention along the southern coast all summer. The walrus, who’d been named Freya, was said to have been “euthanized” based on “an overall assessment” of her “continued threat to human safety.”
Details of how and where the 600-kilo walrus was killed were withheld, but Fisheries Director Frank Bakke-Jensen claimed “well-trained personnel” put her down in accordance with rules and routines applying to marine mammals. Police and officials from the state authority in charge of food and animal regulations (Mattilsynet) were also informed in advance of Freya’s execution Sunday morning.
She was first spotted earlier this summer swimming in local harbours and climbing on board boats and marina piers in such southern coastal towns as Kragerø and Risør. Then she swam north, showing up in Oslo in June and attracting instant attention. She slept most of the day, often on boats, floating docks and even on water scooters, and seemed at least initially to enjoy human companionship.
Officials quickly warned, however, that a walrus can be dangerous and pose a threat to swimmers and paddlers. She also caused a certain amount of damage, with her tusks puncturing a few inflatable vessels and rib boats. She remained popular, though, and boat insurance companies said they’d process the unusual claims coming in from boatowners.
Reaction to the authorities’ ultimate decision to put her down was swift, with the Greens Party warning that they would take up the matter in Parliament. “We’ll be asking questions,” Ingrid Liland, deputy leader of the party, told state broadcaster NRK. Fisheries Minister Bjørnar Skjæran of the Labour Party could also expect demands for an account of what evaluations were made.
Liland noted how Freya had become a symbol of threatened species and claimed “we and the government need to take care of them and protect them and not kill them.” Liland said many Norwegians had also grown fond of her. Her frequent appearances drew crowds, but that’s what the authorities feared could result in serious confrontations.
Siri Martinsen, a veterinarian and leader of the animal welfare organization NOAH, said she was “shocked and extremely disappointed” by the authorities’ action. She doesn’t think Norwegian officials are able or willing to take care of wild animals, and that other options should have been tried first. They included attempts to move Freya, but that was also considered risky and expensive.
“We think those who didn’t follow the calls to say away from Freya should have been fined,” Martinsen said, in offering another option that could have lessened the threat Freya posed. Authorities agreed that the crowds around Freya in recent days seemed to have stressed the walrus, who was just a few years old and seen for the first time in the northern region of Troms in 2019. She was spotted again last fall in the Netherlands, before turning up in southern Norway this summer.
The fisheries directoratet reported that Freya’s cadaver had been turned over to veterinarians.
“We understand that this decision (to kill Freya) can spark reactions among the public,” Bakke-Jensen conceded, “but I’m certain this was the right decision. We are concerned about the animal’s well-being, but human live and health must come first.”